The candidates in this spring’s municipal election seemed optimistic about Carbondale’s future as they addressed questions in a public forum March 5.
All five prospective trustees attended the event, as did Mayor Dan Richardson, who is running unopposed. The top three vote getters will serve four year terms, while the fourth serves two. The three trustees seeking reelection were all appointed to fill vacancies, so it’s their first time on the campaign trail as ballots begin to go out.
Cosponsored by The Sopris Sun, The Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, The Third Street Center and KDNK Community Access Radio, the forum was broadcast live and can be heard in its entirety at kdnk.org. KDNK Director Gavin Dahl moderated the event, and started by giving each candidate a chance to introduce themselves.
Lani Kitching introduced herself as an 18 year Valley resident, volunteer in numerous industries from economic development to drought management and owner of an outdoor outfitting business. Erica Sparhawk, an appointed incumbent, defined herself as a CLEER employee a mother of two daughters in the Carbondale school system and a board member for the now-defunct Dandelion Market. April Spaulding also has volunteer chops, including the KDNK board and American Legion, but could speak to the perspectives of the working man from her time at the Smithy and Pour House as well as her own photography business. Heather Henry, another appointed incumbent, had experience on the Parks and Recreation and Planning and Zoning boards before moving up to trustee, and has a business — construction and software – and family of her own. Luis Yllanes, the final appointed incumbent, has extensive nonprofit management experience and has been involved with KDNK since making the move from Miami eight and a half years ago.
After that, it was time for questions, which each candidate had two minutes to answer on a rotating basis. Do to limited space, we have abbreviated their responses and omitted Richardson’s replies.
How would you balance development and small town character?
Sparhawk: I think one of the things that people love about Carbondale… is funky vitality. We have a lot to build on, historically. We are one of the most diverse economies in the region. We’re one of the only local economies that’s not completely reliant on tourism; we’re not reliant on oil and gas.
Spaulding: I believe that Carbondale is amazing… The growth is here; it’s happening. We do need to figure out how to keep our small town and to grow properly and in a sensitive way to that… I love our small town, I love that we have this creative district that brings people here, and then we have all these other businesses that keep them here.
Henry: I think a lot of what creates a small-town character are characters. And we have a lot. Hard, hard working individuals, all demographics… We have a unified development code that said ‘this is what we want, this is how we want it.’ Those documents really arose from the citizenry of Carbondale… That’s what I appreciated: those documents that we use as a vision.
Yllanes: Just the other day, I saw photo of what this town looked like in the ‘70s. You can still recognize how the town looked back then, but you can see the growth. Growth is inevitable here. It’s our job as trustees to manage that in a way that still retains that small town character.
Kitching: It’s really important to me not to overlay a manufactured facade over our history-rich community… We’ve got all these towns popping up that have no history behind them. If our buildings could talk… they’d have some interesting stories to tell, and I want to keep that.
What does Carbondale’s economic future look like to you?
Spaulding: It’s growing, and we need to embrace that. We need to bring businesses in. Main Street is sad to me right now. It has many empty businesses sitting there. I don’t know all of our planning, zoning structure, but maybe we need something where we’re not just letting people buy buildings and let them sit, idle.
Henry: We are building on our existing strengths… We’ve started to hear that there are some barriers… Let’s identify them and work through them.… Obviously, bringing in the housing to go with those jobs is critical. All pieces have to move forward together at the same time.
Yllanes: I think the future has a lot to do with the commercial district we see along 133, what’s happening with City Market. There needs to be continued vitality on Main Street so property isn’t just an asset on a portfolio… Regional housing, affordable housing… it’s a big picture, but it has to be maintained into what works in our town.
Kitching: I believe that our economic future will strengthen when we find a way to attract and develop Carbondale friendly businesses that drive revenue from outside the community. The reality is that we can’t sustain let alone grow our economy by selling in a closed circle of just ourselves.
Sparhawk: We had someone come to our meeting… and they proposed this very different looking future Main Street… We may have less retail. We may have fewer restaurants… Technology is changing quickly and the world is changing quickly… We may not have in the far distant future a sales tax base like we have now to rely on.
What do you think the Town can do to reduce our impacts on the environment?
Henry: Ride the bus. There’s a tremendous amount of individual ownership to this question. There are so many opportunities in this town to reduce every aspect of our footprint… Being able to see those opportunities that are brought forth… and being an individual who is excited to seize on those things.
Yllanes: I think we need to set an example for our children, and they can set an example for us. Whether through waste diversion, composting, being smart consumers about what we pick up every day… We can be an example to the rest of Valley and other towns about how we can reduce the impact on our environment because to us it matters so much.
Kitching: We’ve taken a firm stand not to use bottled water when we take our clients out and explain why. It’s a constant conversation of education… We represent clean living as it is, so let’s just spread that around. Individually, it’s how you manage your waste.
Sparhawk: The fact that it can take you the same amount of time to ride the bus from here to Aspen as it does to drive is a huge asset to our community… We’ve got the tools to do it… and we can all do it and I think we all want to do it as well… We’re definitely a leader, and that’s why we adopted this Climate Action Plan.
Spaulding: We have a lot of great nonprofits and for profits, green-energy businesses that are teaching us, and right there is exactly what I want to say: I’m all about the education, not so much the mandate… Letting the community know how to reduce our footprint is so much more important than just making a law about this.
What would you do as a trustee to address larger community issues?
Yllanes: There’s been so much talk about our future and development, but I think what we can do is diversify our economy… You look at areas in western Garfield County that are so dependent on oil and gas that they live and die by that… It’s really important to find ways to reach out to new business, to find ways to encourage people to invest more in our town.
Kitching: I’ve heard from a lot of different people that we’re short on specialists… I understand that because we’re in a rural environment it’s difficult to attract physicians to come to our community, but as we’re purporting to grow, we need to address how we’re going to keep our citizenry healthy.
Sparhawk: One of the things that I’ve learned in the last year… is all of you and all of our citizens have lots of ideas as well… It is really important that we listen and take your expertise… When you come and talk to us and engage as citizens, everybody wants to listen… I think the most important role of a trustee is to be open to new ideas.
Spaulding: Housing is very important… I just sat down with an architect, and I loved to hear her say was it about building up instead of sprawling across open land… Being able to build smaller homes would be amazing. They’ve done that in Basalt, and I think that’s great… Our seniors are so important. I have a soft spot for that and want to make sure we’re taking care of them.
Henry: Our job is really to facilitate… citizens’ ability to get involved… There are so many avenues for citizens to get involved via their passion. Our job, really, is to then there to sit and listen and help facilitate the amazing ideas that come forward from those citizens and citizen groups.